Peru's war on 'biopiracy'

Farmers in Peru irate over US patents on 'natural viagra'

Published: Thursday 15 August 2002

peruvian farmers and indigenous peoples' organisations are up in arms against two us patents on maca ( Lepidium meyenii ), a plant related to the mustard family, cultivated for centuries in the Puna highlands of Peru. Maca is a staple food crop of Peru and is widely marketed in the West as a 'natural viagra'.

Maca-based products are commonly promoted as natural enhancers of sexual function and fertility. Demand for maca is growing in the us, Europe and Japan. The patents are held by the New Jersey-based Pure World Botanicals Inc and Texas-based Biotics Research Corporation. Pure World holds the patent on the isolated maca extract and claims it can be used to treat cancer and sexual dysfunction. The company has been importing maca into the us and has been selling it as a fertility enhancer for several years. Biotics Research holds the other patent on the mixture of powdered maca and antler for augmenting testosterone levels.

Peruvian farmers have requested the Lima-based International Potato Centre (cip), which is one of the 16 global research centres under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (cgiar) to take action to prohibit intellectual property claims. Farmers have asked cip to declare a moratorium on the patenting of all Andean crop germplasm and their genetic materials.

Pure World's maca extract is not recognised in Peru and it does not currently prevent Peruvian people from growing, using or selling maca extracts. However, if Pure World -- which operates the largest botanical extraction facility in North America -- chooses to enforce its patent, the company could prevent maca extracts of Peruvian origin from being exported to the us or anywhere else where the patent is recognised. Pure World is also seeking patent rights in Australia, the European Patent Office and at the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

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